In September 1983, three clusters of gastrointestinal illness with similar symptoms affected 45 persons in Washington, D.C., after office parties. The illness lasted a mean of 4.4 days and was characterized by watery diarrhea (91%), abdominal cramps (80%), headache (38%), nausea (38%), and subjective fever (20%). Illness was strongly associated with having eaten imported French Brie cheese one to six days before onset of illness (P less than .0001 by Fisher's two-tailed exact test). After publicity about these outbreaks, additional cheese-associated cases were identified over an eight-week period in Illinois, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Colorado. Stool specimens from ill persons in four states yielded Escherichia coli serotype O27:H20. These organisms produced heat-stable enterotoxin and had similar plasmid profiles. When commercially distributed foods are contaminated, enterotoxigenic E. coli can cause widespread disease even in a developed country, and the disease can easily escape correct diagnosis.